By DON STINE
It is not an easy task to train hard enough and well enough to become an Olympian but don’t tell that to Ocean Township’s 22-year-old Molly Hebert.
Hebert, who has cerebral palsy, has been selected to participate in the gymnastics competition at the 2015 Special Olympics Summer World Games to be held in Los Angeles, opening in July.
“It’s surreal. When Molly was born and first diagnosed, people said she may not walk or participate in activities with her peers. They painted a picture of a non-ambulatory individual. And now to see her walking on a four-inch wide beam that is three feet in air- I cry every time I see her do it. It’s amazing. She has that you can’t tell me what I can’t do attitude- she always has,” said her mother, Diane Ludwig.
Hebert was recently recognized by the Ocean Township Council with a special proclamation recognizing her as “a standout competitor…competing and excelling in women’s gymnastics.”
Hebert, who lives in the Wayside area, was successful in women’s artistic gymnastics at both the regional and state levels, earning a Gold Medal in her division on multiple events.
She was then given a spot on “Team New Jersey” that competed at the 2014 Special Olympics USA Games held in the Princeton and Mercer County areas this year.
The USA Games had nearly 3,500 athletes competing in 14 Olympic-style sports, with the support of 1,000 coaches, 8,000 volunteers and an estimated 50,000 family, friends and spectators
At the USA Games, Hebert won five medals, including a Bonze in the floor exercise, the beam, and the uneven bars, a Silver in the all-around, and a Gold in the vault, which made her the national champion in her division.
She will now move on to “Team USA” and compete in the 2015 Special Olympics Summer World Games. Hebert will be among an elite New Jersey team that includes one other gymnast, two cyclists, and a volleyball team. The 2015 Special Olympics will host 7,000 athletes from 177 nations.
Hebert has been training in gymnastics for almost seven years and became interested through a network of friends through sport programs in the county.
“She loved it and she always wanted to do it. We tried sending her to other gyms but they didn’t know how to handle or work with somebody with Molly’s disabilities,” Ludwig said.
She said that ACE Gymnastics, based in Ocean Township, was the only one that knew how to help Molly.
“They knew exactly how to manage and capture her strengths and abilities,” she saidocena woman
Hebert now practices twice a week at ACE and at other sites in the state to prepare for the upcoming World Games.
Ludwig also gives a lot of credit to “optimistic and open minded” personnel in the Ocean Township school district, where Hebert was in a self-contained classroom but exposed to mainstream activities.
“People there had the attitude that a disability doesn’t define you and that you can do more. Teachers and coaches always welcomed Molly to train and to keep on training- and that did a lot to build up her self esteem. She never felt that the doors were closed because of her limitations- she had a really positive experience in high school and in elementary school,” she said.
And how does Hebert feel about all of this?
“Molly is beyond herself. It’s like to the moon, she is so excited. She will be heading to Indianapolis soon for a week-long training camp,” Ludwig said.
Ludwig said that Hebert’s older 26-year-old brother, Edward, is her No.1 fan.
And she will do anything for him. I think she pushed herself to make him proud,” she said.
Hebert and her family have lived in Ocean Township since 2001. Before then they lived in South Florida and Toms River.